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Residents in Rota’s riding express sadness, disappointment following resignation

There was no hustle and bustle outside of Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota’s North Bay constituency office on Wednesday.

The quiet scene is in contrast to the frenzy of activity Tuesday when Rota was at the centre of a major controversy that forced him to resign as Speaker of the House of Commons.

In what has become an international embarrassment, Rota introduced North Bay resident Yaroslav Hunka, 98, as a “Ukrainian-Canadian war veteran … who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” and thanked him for his service during Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Parliament Hill last Friday.

At this point, all MPs rose and gave Hunka a standing ovation.

It quickly emerged that Hunka served in the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division that served under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime during the Second World War.

Residents in his riding had mixed reactions to the debacle.

"They should have vetted this a little better,” said Bryan Boothe. “That's the bottom line."

"North Bay is on the map,” added Melissa Delfino. “Not necessarily for a good reason."

Rota apologized first on Sunday, and then again to all MPs Monday, taking responsibility for the mistake and for not being aware until after the controversy exploded.

Rota stepped aside after meeting with the leaders from all parties Tuesday.

Nipissing-Temiskaming MP Anthony Rota was forced to resign this week as Speaker of the House of Commons. (File)

 “I accept full responsibility for my actions,” he said.

“I have acted as your humble servant of this House, carrying out the important responsibilities of this position to the very best of my abilities … I reiterate my profound regret for my error. That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including the Jewish community in Canada and around the world."

"That's who he is and that's the kind of person that he is,” said voter Doreen Moore.

His office announced Monday he plans to stick it out as an MP for the rest of the term.

Nipissing University political science professor David Tabachnick said Rota’s time in office has been badly tarnished.

"As far as politics goes, this is probably what he'll be remembered by, which is, I think, profoundly unfair,” Tabachnick said.

In a statement, the president of the Sons of Jacob Synagogue in North Bay accepted Rota's apology. It also wants an investigation into why Hunka is living in Canada.

There was no hustle and bustle outside of Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota’s North Bay constituency office on Wednesday. (Eric Taschner/CTV News)

“Mr. Rota’s resignation as Speaker of the House is a sad day for all Canadians,” Howard Kizell wrote.

“How did the Canadian government allow Mr. Hunka to take up residence here in Canada and get Canadian citizenship?”

CTV News has contacted Hunka’s family for comment on the situation. No one has returned our messages. Tabachnick said Rota's resignation and heartfelt apology is more than enough.

"We can move on here and have him as our Member of Parliament representing our riding,” he said.

Rota has represented Nipissing-Timiskaming since 2004 and was first elected speaker in 2019.

“We know him. He's a terrific man and he's always got our votes,” said voter Marlene Quick.

“I think he does a fantastic job."

“Honest mistakes happen every day,” added Rebel MacInnis. 

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